Saturday 31 January 2009

AK (another theory)

Some like a challenge. I know I do. When I told Mike that the meaning of AK might never be worked out, he took that as a challlenge. Which is good for me. Because he unearthed some new stuff from the interweb.

The first passage discusses the beers brewed by Phipps in Northampton. The author worked as an engineering apprentice between 1950 and 1956.

"During my time there Phipps were producing:

PA and IPA draught and in bottles
Ratcliffs Stout in bottles
Number 10 barley wine in nip bottles (third of a pint)
Brown Ale in bottles (a blend of PA and Ratcliffs Stout)
Bottling Guinness under contract from Park Royal.AK draught for internal consumption (allowance beer)

AK was the workers allowance beer and of low gravity between 1030 and 1032. In relation to its gravity it was over hopped and very palatable when consumed with bread and strong cheese. It was said to be a product that had been specifically brewed for farm labourers to drink during harvest time! In addition to allowance beer it might have been sold commercially as SPA for special outdoor events, village fetes & galas, etc."Tom Whapples, Phipps' Brewery Engineer describes the Bridge Street plant.

It's interesting that it's called an "allowance beer", that is beer given to workers as part of their employment terms. It was common in the 19th century for farmers to partly pay their workers in beer, especially at harvest time. Harvest beers were weaker than standard pub beers. The ones I've seen in price lists were usually 10d a gallon, which equates to a gravity of no more than 1045º.

A dictionary of Lancashire dialect has this entry:

"Lowance – allowance (Ale drunk at harvest time)"

confirming the use of the term "allowance" for beer given to harvesters.

Not only agricultural workers received beer as part of their pay. Those performing certain types of heavy industrial work got beer, too. This is a recollection written in 1936 by Robert Greenhalgh of Atherton, Lancashire, who had been born in 1855:

"At the period I am writing about, the houses could be open all the hours of the week, night and day. I well remember an incident that occurred in my apprentice days just after the restriction of the 11 o'clock closing time. We were repairing a colliery winding engine which had broken down and, as was usual in those days, the manager sent one of the labourers with a two gallon bottle for the allowance beer to the Bull & Butcher at Dangerous Corner just before closing time."

(I love the idea of a pub called the Bull & Butcher at Dangerous Corner. I wonder if it still exists?)

Here's Mike's basic point: could the A in AK be derived from "Allowance"? It certainly fits with AK being lighter than other beers. And I can't say that I have a better theory. What do you reckon?

Friday 30 January 2009

Fuller's beers 1887

It's been an interesting and productive week. Mostly consumed in a discussion of 19th century beer codes. It's been useful to get some other views. Many thanks to those that have provided them.

Particular thanks to Gary Gillman who pointed me in the direction of a Fuller's ad from 1893. Why am I so grateful for that? Because I have photos of Fuller's brewing records for 1887. The two match up nicely. So I can see the exact details of the beer, how they were described to the outside world and their price. I'm so excited.

Unfortunately, there are only a couple of K's in there. XK, AK, XXK. But I can detect a pattern in their use. X represents the standard base strength of 1055º. It's worth mentioning at this point that 1055º was a highly significant gravity at the time. Tax was levied per "standard barrel", 36 gallons at 1055º. You can find a fuller explanation of a standard barrel here

It seems to me as if A is being used to designate a beer below the standard 1055º gravity. The K is added to beers which are not mild, i.e., those not sold young: Bitter, Light Bitter, Old Ale.

I'd forgotten to mention that there is a use of A that I do understand. During WW I, breweries introduced a new low-gravity Mild that had its gravity and price regulated by government. They had designations such as GA (Government Ale) and Ale 4d (4d was the price per pint). These beers survived into the interwar period and were the cheapest beers sold in pubs, selling for 4d a pint when standard Mild cost 5d or 6d and Bitter 7d or 8d. Barclay Perkins brewed three Milds in the 1930's: A, X and XX at gravities of around 1032, 1037 and 1042 and a price per pint of 4d, 5d and 6d.

The A in Fuller's AK seems to fit that convention. Of course, using this method, the names XAK and XXAK would make no sense. But I gave up expecting a universal explanation years ago. A partial one will do fine.

Before anyone mentions it, I had noticed that the IPA is stronger than the standard XK Bitter. It's also the most expensive beer, in terms of price per gravity point, costing 50% more than Porter. With the weakest beer having a gravity of 1050, there wasn't anything very sessionable in Fuller's range.

Rake mashing machine

I forgot to mention this last week. When James and Oz were visiting a whisky distillery in last week's programme, they had a great bit showing an ancient-looking rake masher in action. It's been the highlight of the series for me so far.

The rake masher looked at least a century old. Maybe even older. I've only seen illustrations of thesee machines in old brewing manuals. I'd wondered exactly how they moved. Well, now I do. So thank you, James and Oz.

I suppose I should file this post under "sad old obsessive".

Thursday 29 January 2009

K's, X's, A's, B's, C's and numbers.

I'm an idiot. Have I said that already? Just in case you missed it first or two hundred and thirtyseventh time around: I'm an idiot.

I hoofed the rugby ball blindly away before anyone could use the excuse of a "tackle" to hammer me into the frozen ground. But neglected to provide the information that's reduced me to a metaphoring imbecile. So here they are:

loads of cryptic beer names from price lists

There's a CC in there. Other weird ones, too. From Godsell & Sons: AK, AKK, AB, A1.

If others want to contribute to my table, that would be great. I don't have time to look through all the online directories and other sources. I'll make the results public. The more examples there are, the . . . I was going to say "the patterns are to identify". In reality, it'll most likely just get more confusing.

Just remember this:

Mild = young.

Mild Bitter might sound weird today, but you have to remember that it just means a beer sold young, nothing else. Mild Ale, Mild Porter, Mild Bitter. It's the second half of the name that's important.

More K's

I've already mentioned some of the following in a comment to an earlier post. But I'm worried I'll forget where it is, so I'm converting it to a post of its own. If you see what I mean. Must have left my writing head at home today

Here are the vital statistics of Fuller's X, AK and PA:

You'll note that the hopping rate of the AK (in terms of pounds of hops per quarter of malt) is exactly halfway between the hopping rate of the PA and X.

Barclay Perkins are a good choice for comparing K and X Ales. As you'll see in the table below, the corresponding X and K Ales had the same OG, but the K's were more heavily-hopped.

Last time at the London Metrolpolitan archives I photographed some Ale logs that also demonstrated the relationship between X and K Ales. I think they were Truman's logs. The beers were called X, XX, XXX and KXX, KXXX, KXXXX. You see the same K prefix used with, for example, Porter. It always means a Keeping version. Truman's Porter's were always prefixed by either Runner or Keeping. You had things like Country Runner, Keeping Double Stout, etc.

I must try to get through the relevant logs. I'm sure they will broaden our knowledge.

Wednesday 28 January 2009

Brown malt (yet again, again)

Today it's the turn of 20th century brown malt. I'm lucky to have been provided with a good first-hand account of brown malt manufacture.

The method described appears very similar to that employed in the 19th century, with faggots of wood being used to fuel the kiln. Smoke was deliberately allowed to come into conmtact with the malt in order to flavour it. This is in sharp contrast to the 18th century method, where straw was usually used (in Hertfordshire") as fuel. And, unlike the praise heaped open the "empyrheumatic" flavour of 19th century brown malt, 18th century maltsters tried to avoid any smokiness.

"Hertfordshire had many Brown Malt Kilns and together with Norfolk, provided
almost the total production of Brown Malt.

The kilns tended to be small with a capacity of about 2 Quarters (672 pounds) and were funnel shaped above the bed of malt. The top of the kiln had a cowl, that in many cases turned with the wind, so that themetal top was always facing downwind.

The bed of the kiln itself was made of woven wire (not wedgewire commonly used for later kilns) and this was maintained to the end of production.

Barley was always used and was subjected to screening, then put in tanks of water (steeps) where it remained for up to 72 hours. The grain was then thrown out on to floors where it remained in heaps (couching) for24 hours. It was then spread out to a depth of about 5 inches. It wasturned by hand to stop the roots, then developing, from mattingtogether. In the case of Brown Malt the green malt was left to "seer"off or become very withered over a period of about 14 days and was then spread very thinly on the kiln (about 2 to 3 inches thick).

The kiln was fired by Faggots and poles. Faggots are brushwood about 3 feet long and were held together by a forked branch at the base. The brushwood was held in place by a "tyer" of strong string. The wood was always hornbeam. The poles were again hornbeam with a thickness of about3 inches and again about 3 to 4 feet long. The idea was to start thefire with faggots until colour was gained by the malt itself (using last year's drier crop). At this point the malt was turned off the kiln. Avery hot job. It was not surprising that 2 gallons of beer were drunk before breakfast!!

The process was very dangerous from a fire point of view and many brown malt kilns were burnt down. Our own in Stanstead Abbots were brought to the ground in 1902.

A modern equivalent of Brown Malt is produced in a roasting cylinder,but lacks the smoky flavour of the true material.

Production ceased in about 1957, when many smaller maltsters were being taken over, and with the very small amount being needed in modern brewing, it no longer became economic, particularly with the hugeinsurance premium being charged."
"The Production of Brown Malt", Guy Horlock , 2002/2009 (Curator, French & Jupps Museum, Stanstead Abbotts,Hertfordshire)

Many thanks to Michael Newman who provided me with the above text. Fascinating stuff, I'm sure you'll agree.

Whitbread were customers of French & Jupp, buying both brown and black malt from them. They appear in the brewing logs just as "French".

Tuesday 27 January 2009

Frightening the kids

I just scared the kids stupid. I was shouting at the television. It happens more often than I would care to admit.

"No, no!!!!!!!!! That's total f****** crap!!!!!!"

Why was I shouting? Porter and Stout. No change there. It's a topic that often makes me scream. To be more specific, Oz Clarke's potted history of Porter. It was just on. You missed it? A couple of minutes of myth.

To be honest, I rarely get through a television piece about beer without shouting or swearing of any kind. The treatment of beer in mainstream media is even more annoying than beer forums. And that's saying something.

Anyone know how to get in touch with Oz Clarke. Someone needs to put him straight about Porter.

Nice cameo from Beernut, though. Looks a good laugh, the Bull & Castle.

Beer code (again)

I've been thinking about that Henry Lovibond advert. It's the sort of thing I do on the tram in the morning. Stare out of the window and think about 19th century brewhouse beer names. That's not weird, is it

These old price lists have a certain fascination. Shall I tell you what strikes me about this one?

The large number of Bitter Ales. Five in all, if you include XXXXB. That's unusual. Most breweries only produced a PA and maybe an IPA. The range of strengths is vey wide, too. The XB, at just 15 shillings for 18 gallons couldn't have been more than 1045º. That's very weak for a 19th century Pale Ale, even a Light Bitter. At the other end of the spectrum, XXXXB at 2 shillings a gallon must have been closer to 1100º I've never seen another beer that strong described as Bitter.

The Milds are pretty much what you would see everywhere. Except that they would usually start at X

It's clear that strength is being indicated by the number of X's. It's unusual to see this system applied to Pale Ales and I can't think of another example where I've seen it applied to AK. The standard method is to add more K's, i.e. AK, AKK

Talking of AK, the term "Intermediate Ale" is an interesting one. I'm not sure precisely what it nmeans. What follows is a guess. The beers are clumped together in four groups: Mild Ales, Pale Bitter Ales, Intermediate Ales, Stout and Porter. I understand what some of the se mean. Mild Ales are unaged, relatively lightly-hopped. The PAle Bitter Ales would certainly have been hoppier and probably had a little age on them. I think we all understand what Porter and Stout mean. So that leaves the Intermediate Ales. The description of AK as "Mild Bitter" implies to me that it's an unaged ("Mild") hoppy beer.

Of course, I could be talking crap again. More investigation is required.

The OG's are an educated guess based on the price, description and similar beers from other London brewers.

Monday 26 January 2009


With zero days to spare we used the last of our cheap Kruidvat train tickets on Sunday. We'd thought of going to Den Helder/Texel. Then we saw the weather forecast: rain and strong winds. Not exactly the best weather for a ferry journey, however short. After much humming and Hawing, we settled on Rotterdam as destination.

Have I mentioned that I used to live in Rotterdam? I usually keep it pretty quiet. Especially when there are Amsterdammers around. The cities have precious little in common, except for a tram system and a harbour. Rotterdam's aesthetically challenged city centre I can only take in small doses. I never tire of downtown Amsterdam.

The main purpose of the trip (aside from using up the train tickets) was to take a look at an exhibition of Roman stuff. The kids quite like that sort of thing. Me too, to be honest. The exhibition itself was fine. The same can't be said of the Kunsthal ( What a crap building. The walls are made out of the same transluscent, corrugated plastic sheets we used to fix the roof on our shed. Very classy. The entrance of so convenient (halfway down a ramp) that they need a 3-metre long flashing arrow to show you where it is. Contemporary design at its finest.

After a couple of hours looking at statues with chipped or missing noses, it was time for refreshment. The centre Rotterdam isn't great for beer pubs. It isn't great for pubs full stop. The only brewpub is well out of the centre in Rotterdam's only historic remainder, Delfshaven. The two beer pubs are to the East of the centre and neither opens until the early evening. That cut the choice down to . . . . one. Doelencafé. The pub attached to the Doelen theatre.

Doelencafé is on one of the ugliest squares in Europe. No, I should be fair. One of the ugliest squares in the whole universe. The square is "decorated" with four giant hydraulic arms that sometimes move about. Expensive, difficult to maintain, pointless and hideous to look at. The buildings lining the square are an incoherent jumble of cinema, appartment blocks and theatre, none of which bear any relationship - in terms of architecture, size, function or materials - to each other. Though there is a pretty decent chip van usually parked in one corner.

True to form, one side of the square is currently a building site. There's something disturbing about Rotterdam's need to keep rebuilding itself. Many central plots already have two postwar developments behind them. Maybe they'll get it right eventually. But I doubt it. The city hasn't got any prettier since I lived there. Just taller.

But this is a beer blog not an architectural blog. I'd better say at least something related to my theme. The reason I'd chosen Doelen wasn't a huge beer list. It has 10 draught and about 20 bottled. But amongst the draughts are three from Pelgrim, the brewpub in Delfshaven. We entered and sat down.

Several waiters and waitresses passed our table. Then several more. Finally Dolores said "If we don't get served in 2 minutes, I'm leaving." Which must have been the magic words because a waitress immediately appeared to take our order. I picked a Pelgrim Tripel.

After taking a sip, I gave it to Dolores to try. "It tastes unusual. Not in a good way. At first it's like medicine, then like nothing." Well worth the 10-minute wait for service, then. We just had the one drink.

What's happening to me? Just one beer on a day out. I must be turning sensible.

Schouwburgplein 52,
3012 CL Rotterdam.
Tel.: 010- 414 86 88
Fax. 010 - 213 26 58

Northern New Jersey pub advice

Looks like I'll be in the States next week. Northern New Jersy to be precise. It's a work thing. My new employers are sending me for a week's training. Assuming that they won't be locking in my hotel room, I expect to drink the odd beer or two. So here's my question: anyone know some decent places to drink in the vicinity of Hillsdale?

Sunday 25 January 2009

Other Barclay Perkins beers in the 1920's

As promised, here are the remaining Barclay Perkins beers. I've now covered all 5 draught styles.

I had thought that the Cannon brewery scores were pretty poor. But just to check, I've made a direct comparison between Cannon and Barclay Perkins.

As you can see, overall Barclay Perkins beers did score a little better, the average being just below 1. Then again, only two Cannon beers had negative scores, as opposed to 3 Barclay Perkins beers. Bizarrely, the two breweries' Pale Ales scored exactly the same, 0.09. The biggest difference is between the Porters. Barclay Perkins Porter was their highest scoring beer, Cannon's Porter their lowest scoring.

Both breweries' KK Strong Ales had negative scores. The pattern so far seems to be this: atick to standard Bitter and Mild.

This is so much fun that I'm going to continue on through the other London breweries. Then I can make a league table. Then, should you find yourself in 1920's London, you'll know which brewery's pubs to avoid.

Saturday 24 January 2009

Barclay Perkins Porter and Stout quality in the 1920's

I told you I'd get back to the Whitbread Gravity Book this weekend. Barclay Perkins Porter and Stout (as you may have guessed from the title) is today's topic.

As with the Cannon Brewery, I've scored beers based on the comments about flavour and appearance. The technique may be the same, but the results aren't.

The Porter manages a positive score - 0.22 to be precise - while the Stout gets a pathetic 1.31. Only 3 of 13 Stout samples sound like they were drinkable. Whereas only 3 of 9 Porter samples were below par.

Fascinating, eh? Tomorrow it's the turn of KK, PA and X.

Friday 23 January 2009


When you start digging around in the past, you have to be prepared to unearth the unexpected. The surprises aren't always pleasant. Especially if you have a theory that you're particularly fond of.

I've spent years trying to decode brewhouse names. XXX, KK. Those things. After rummaging through volumes of London brewing records, some of it started to make sense. The X's, K's and S's were sorted.

You may have read the post before this. Where I explained my progress in deciphering the brewer's code. I was quite pleased with it. But it looked a bit dull without an illustration. What better than an old brewery advert full of X's? I wasn't expecting to find any K's. I'd been singularly unsuccessful in finding those so far.

I know exactly where to look for 19th century brewery adverts: old directories. Leicester University has a searchable collection of directories online. Saves me the trouble of fishing out a brewery history and scanning an advert image. I'm so smart. It didn't take me long to find one. I was fair glowing with smugness. Until I looked at it more closely.

If you looked at the comments of my last post, you'll see a discussion about K Ales. I admitted to having found few K Ales in pricelists. And never having seen a single K. And that all the K Ales I'd seen had been strong. All I can say is this: bloody Kilburn Brewery.

Their advert is a like a squadron of Fairey Swordfishes. Laughably antique, yet my theories lie at the harbour bottom, their hulls perforated by torpedoes. Here are my K's. All the ones I'd not seen: a weak K (under a shilling a gallon: that's below 1050), a KK that was also way too cheap (barely more than ordinary Mild) and described as "Pale Bitter Ale". Both the K Ales are called Bitter and there's another beer called Pale Ale. That's buggering not only my view of K Ales as, well, Ales (lightly-hopped) but also challenging the idea that Bitter and Pale Ale were essentially the same thing.

So forget everything I said in my last post. Well, not all of it. I think I got X Ales right. And S's.

You can't ignore evidence just because it's annoying. That's sort of the point of what I'm doing. Better to see today as a triumph. A day where I learned something new. I don't understand K's at all.

Beer code

The codes used in the 19th century to designate different beers fascinate me. I'm talking letters and numbers. All those X's and K's. And numbers, too, like Bass's No.1 to No.6. But what the hell do they mean?

I'm pretty sure I've cracked the X's. They are the simplest method of strength indication. The most likely explanation for their origin is, as so much about beer, all to do with tax. Pre-1830, there were, for tax purposes, two classes of beer: Table Beer and Strong Beer. The former was taxed at the rate of 2s 6d per barrel, the latter at 10s.

There were strict rules about marking and keeping separate the two types of beer. One of the simplest fiddles was to mix Table and Strong Beer and sell it as Strong. Judging by Accum's analyses, in the first decades of the 19th century this practice was rife. I know for certain that barrels of Table Beer had to be marked with a "T". Barrels of Strong Beer it seems were marked with an "X". Depending on which explanation you believe, this either stood for "eXcise" or was simply the Roman numeral for 10 (the tax in shillings).

The number of X's used, give an indication of a beer's strength. In the early part of the 19th century, breweries usually produced a range of Ales, ranging from X to XXXX, though you occasionally see XXXXX. This system was mostly used to designate Mild Ales, that is Ales sold unaged. Mild did not mean weak. XXXX Ales had gravities up to 1100. X's were also use for Porter. Though a P was often stuck on the end to make it differentiate the names from those of Ales. Guinness called their Porter X, Extra Stout XX and Export Stout XXX. As X's came to be associated specifically with Ales, they were sometimes replaced by S's. Whitbread, with S, SS and SSS is a good example of the use of this naming convention.

Breweries produced a second range of Ales. Stock or Keeping Ales. These were aged before sale. In the first half of the 19th century, these were often designated XXK, XXXK or XXXXK. But, as the century progressed, the names were mostly changed to just K's. So KK, KKK and KKKK. Typically, a brewery would produce X, XX, XXX and XXXX Mild Ales and KK, KKK and KKKK Stock Ales. The equivalent K and X Ales (for example XX and KK) had the same gravity. The only difference was a slightly higher hopping rate for the Stock Ales. Though no-one seemss to have bothered ageing the weakest Ales, so you don't find K Ales.

By around 1900, breweries had reduced the number of X Ales they brewed. The London breweries usually only made one, X. The stronger Mild Ales had mostly died out. The range of Stock Ales had thinned, too. Typical for London breweries was KK and KKK. As ageing went out of fashion, these came to be known as Strong Ales rather than Stock Ales. KK, or Burton as it was usually called in London pubs, was a standard draught beer between 1900 and 1950.
Here are a few random examples from London breweries:

Griffin Brewery Ales 1839
X 1073; XX 1089; XXX 1105
KK 1089; KKK 1105
(Source: Griffin Brewery brewing records)

Griffin Brewery Stouts 1844
S 1073.4º
SS 1087.3º
SSS 1097º
(Source: Griffin Brewery brewing records)

Whitbread Stouts 1873
S 1070
SS 1077
SSS 1091
(Source: Whitbread brewing records)

Barclay Perkins Ales 1869
X 1060; XX 1080; XXX 1093;
KK 1079; KKK 1093; KKKK 1106
(Source: Barclay Perkins brewing records)

Barclay Perkins Ales 1880
X 1060; XX 1079; KKK 1090
(Source: Barclay Perkins brewing records)

Some names, need no explanation. I think most of you have an idea what PA and IPA stand for. Others, have me flummoxed. AK, for example. How I would love to know what that stands for. Or derivatives like AKA and AAK. Answers on a postcard, please.

Thursday 22 January 2009


Andrew came up with a good one yesterday. We were discussing the breakfast customs of different nations. "What do the French have for breakfast?" Quick as a flash Andrew answered "Red wine." How's that for racial stereotyping? Of course, everyone knows it's cognac, not red wine, the French have in the morning.

Sorry about the filler nature of this post. I did have a proper one in mind. Comparing the price per gravity point of Guinness and Whitbread's own beers in the interwar period. My guess is that Guinness was more expensive, as two breweries were takinfg a profit from it. Whitbread are great for comparison purposes as they sold large amounts of Guinness in their pubs but also had a Stout of their own with a very similar profile.

But we're not quite finished with the kitchen. We're looking at tiles this evening. No time for me to go through the spreadsheet. The weekend. Maybe then I'll have time. And time to extract some more dodgy Porters from the Whitbread Gravity Book. There's just so much to do.

Wednesday 21 January 2009

New kitchen: the upside

Our house is still chaotic after the installation of a new kitchen. The chaos doesn't just affect the pots and pans. It's had an impact on my beer stuff, too.

I had to empty and move one of my bookcases. One of the ones dedicated to beer. To be honest, a couple of the shelves were a mess, piled with folders of old notes, labels, maps and god knows what else. I really should sort it all out before putting the bookcase back. But it's me we're talking about. I'll probably have some more pressing task - like watching "American Dad" with Lexie - that will distract me.

The kitchen cupboards, I had believed, were free of any beer-related items. Not quite true. The ones we couldn't really get at (long story as to why, so I won't bother trying to explain) held a surprise. Three bottles of beer that must have been there since we moved in twelve years ago. I say bottles, but they're really cork-stoppered earthenware flasks. I'd forgotten all about them.

The sell by dates are all 1991. So they weren't exactly fresh when put in the cupboard back in 1996. And the beers themselves? Hertog Jan Dubbel, Tripel and Grand Prestige. They've been in a cool, dark place. And at a steady temperature. Ideal conditions for ageing. I wonder what they taste like?

I would show you a photo of the new kitchen. But my camera is on the blink. Maybe tomorrow.

Tuesday 20 January 2009

Who are you and what have you done with my dad?

I often take Lexie into the centre at the weekend. He likes pottering about town. Especially in toy shops. When he's finished, we usually drop by a pub so dad can have his fun, too.

Sunday we had a special reason for being in town. Feeding ourselves in the chip shop. Remember, we were kitchen-less at the weekend. When we'd finished our pie and chips, Lexie said "If I can have a treat, then you can have a beer." "Very generous of you there, son." I thought. But it didn't seem too bad a deal.

I knew what Lexie would want as a treat. A chocolate doughnut. That's what he always wants. The first part of the bargain was easily fulfilled. At a dodgy pizza window on Nieuwedijk.But where to have a beer? Being Sunday, Wildeman was closed. We were too early for Arend's Nest. I suppose we could have tried Scum. But that often has loose dogs. And they've whacked the prices up. It was too early for Belgique, too. I didn't feel like trailing all the way to Ooievaar. And I'm bored of Beiaard.

In the the end I just walked Lexie straight to the tram stop. He seemed confused. "Aren't we going to the pub?" "No." "Really?" "Yes, really?" That's when he said "Who are you and what have you done with my dad?" The only explanation he could think of for my bizarre, atypical behaviour was that the real me had been kidnapped by aliens and a fake me substituted.

Kids, eh?

Brown Beer

Following on from an enquiry by Oblivious, I'm wondering about whether to make "Brown Beer" available as an ebook. What do you reckon? It contains most of what I've written about Porter and Stout and runs to around 140 pages.

If enough of you are interested, I might make it available. Electronically, that is. I should get the printed version done any day soon. When the dust (quite literally) has settled after the installation of our new kitchen.

Monday 19 January 2009

London Porter in the 1930's

I wonder how much more mileage I'll be able to get from Porter? Tell me when you start getting bored. I only finished compiling "Brown Beer" three weeks ago and I've already got another 20 pages of material to add. I blame myself for writing so bloody much.

We've moved on a decade from my last Porter post and are now looking at the 1930's. From the small number of samples analysed and the shrinking output at Whitbread and Barclay Perkins, it's clear that Porter had become a marginal product.

A surprising number of London breweries were still brewing Porter in the late 1930's. Their gravities were mostly in the mid-1030's and, at 5d a pint, they were one of the cheapest beers on sale in pubs. Blow are a few eamples of London Porter, with Guinness Porter from Ireland and Ballantine's from the USA for comparison purposes. Ballantine's had a profile closer to 19th century British versions of the style.

Where do I go from here? The 1940's, perhaps.

Sunday 18 January 2009

The difference between PA and IPA

It's a question that's been troubling me recently: what's the difference between IPA and PA? I suspect it may be even less clear than the difference between Porter and Stout. At least a brewery's Porter was always weaker than their Stouts.

Had you asked me two years ago, I would have said if a brewery made both an IPA and a PA that the IPA would always be the stronger of the two. But that was before I looked and Whitbread and Barclay Pekins brewing records. They both brewed IPA that was considerably weaker than their PA. Both IPA's were also exclusively bottled beers.

Burton IPA's were stronger. But were they stronger than Burton PA? Well, that's where it gets complicated. After Bass and Worthington merged in the 1920's the flagship bottled beers of both breweries were retained. Though they we3re in fact the same beer. For, Bass Red Triangle, for Worthington White Shield. Yet White Shield's label called it an IPA and Red Triangle's claimed it was Pale Ale. What was the beer? PA or IPA? Or both?

I'm starting to believe that maybe there isn't really a difference between the two. Why was IPA given its name? To let you know that it was a Pale Ale prepared for the Indian market, which is how it was originally referred to. No doubt to differentiate it from 18th-century style Pale Ale, which was a completely different beast, with few hops and really a Light Mild. As the 19th century progressed and old-style Pale Ale disappeared, there was no longer a need to warn drinkers that this was the heavily-hopped type of Pale Ale. That's the only Pale Ale there was. So the India bit mostly got dropped from names. That's my total guess theory. If I ever get a look at Burton brewing records I might get some facts to back this up.

The longer I study beer styles, the fewer different ones I find. Mild, PA, Porter, Strong Ale, Brown Ale. That's about it, really.

Saturday 17 January 2009

Burton Unions

Just got the latest issue of the Brewery History Journal. It's one of the few beer publications I get excited about. Why might that be?

An article entitled "An evaluation of the number and distribution of Burton unions" particularly attracted my attention. Fascinating. And useful at the same time. The author, Paul Bayley, unlike populist beer writers, can be arsed to list his sources. They run to seven and a half pages.

Well done, Paul. You put the majority of beer writers to shame with your research and references. Why isn't all beer-writing of this quality?

Friday 16 January 2009

London Porter in the 1920's

They'll start ripping out our kitchen on Saturday. Expect briefer than usual posts until the dust has settled.

Continuing with my Porter theme and my 1920's theme, here are some 1920's Porters. What an inspired choice. As you'll see, Porter rarely stretched past 1040º. Which probably didn't do its condition any favours. The combination of falling demand and falling gravities helped stick the boot in on poor, old Porter. I imagine a gang of skinheads giving a grandad a good kicking. Too vivid, my imagination at times.

Thursday 15 January 2009

Rough pubs

I've been prompted to write this by an excellent post on the same topic by Zythophile.

The roughest pubs I've been have been mostly outside the UK. Mostly.

There was the aptly-named Whip in Leeds. With what my mate Harry called the "industrial accident" bar at the front and the Ted's bar to the rear. The Blind Beggar, when I visited in the late 1970's, was horrible in every single way, including the beer. The Whip had a decent pint of Tetley's.

U Rotundy in Prague is a perennial favourite. I even forgive them the fag smoke. A man's pub in many of the bad senses. But where beers appear magically, without the need to speak to the barman. U Fleku could be a bit scummy in the old days. U Zpěvácků, not far away, used to be totally crazy. I once sat opposite a couple of ZZ Top lookalikes rummaging through a stolen doctor's bag.

Then there's the DDR. The place opposite my mother-in-law's where we bought a bucket of beer. My brother-in-law's local, where everyone had a tattoe above shoulder level and you had to order a shot with every pint. Or the station buffet in Leipzig. Sour Pils and drunks trying to make political speeches with wee stains on their kecks. Happy days.

Hebendanz in Forchheim merits a mention. Rough, but unthreatening. Patrons drinking litre measures before breakfast. And scowling. Talking incomprehensibly. That's another rough pub favourite. Preferably in some weird regional accent.

That reminds me of the place I stumbled across in Salzburg. While I was waiting for Augustiner to open. Where I so impressed the locals by drinking schnapps for breakfast, that they bought me a couple more. I'd thought I could understand Austrian accents until I went there.

But I reckon U Dobreho Kata (The Good Executioner) in Brno has to be the roughest of the lot. There were few nights in my month at Czech summer school when I was the soberest in the pub. In Kata, I was the sensible one. And I came home without a shirt. I gave my "DR & Quinch say nuke your parents" T-shirt to some Czech youth changing trains on his way to the Balkans.

Wednesday 14 January 2009

Beer with me

Ton Overmars once more has shelves overflowing with St. Bernardus Abt. Until I get there. Then there's a just a gap.

I've a supply of Abt, is what I'm trying to say. I'm happy. Happy as a pig in the woods. But that's irrelevant. There's something else I want to talk with you about. Something serious.

Why did I illustrate my last post with a Charrington's label? I wasn't being random. For once. There was a reason. There's one of my minibooks in it for a correct reply.

More dodgy Porter

It's been a long day. I got home late and had arsing issues with doing much research. So a short post. Try to forgive me.

Brewery of the day is City of London. What an odd history it had. It really was in the City of London, on Upper Thames Street. It was very old, being founded before 1431. Brewing stopped in 1922 and transferred to another brewery the company owned in Fulham. The Fulham brewer closed in 1936, but the company retained some pubs. The brewery building was destroyed in WW II, but the company remained in existence, only selling its last 20 pubs in 1968. Th e company still exists as an investment trust.

Thanks to Norman Barber's Excellent "A Century of British Brewers Plus" for the above information. It's one of the books I use most and most admire.

End of history lesson. Here are their beers from the 1920's:

Not a great number of samples, just two for Porter. But both are below par. I think I'm starting to recognise a pattern.

Soon you'll be able to write my blog for yourself. This is the bit where I warn of much more of the same in the days to follow. Here it comes . . . . . Lot's more dodgy Porters tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.

Tuesday 13 January 2009

Time machine question - Cannon Brewery

Which beer would have been your best in a Cannon Brewery pub in the early 1920's? Who hasn't asked themselves that question? Honestly. Who hasn't?

Believe me when I say that I never in my wildest dreams (and many of those were set decades in the past) did I imagine that I would ever have any evidence to point me in the right direction, should my time machine demonstrate a strange affinity for Cannon pubs. But here that evidence is. Any guesses as to which was the safest beer to drink? Have a think while I continue.

As I explained in the last post, I've graded the comments in the Whitbread Gravity Book on a scale of +3 to -3. It's not wholly scientific. OK, not scientific at all. But it's the only information we have. Let's allow it to provide us with a few hints.

Any ideas yet about the beer least likely to be sour or mawkish?

Unfortunately, the flavour comments only appear in the Whitbread Gravity Book entries from the early 1920's. But there are enough samples to get a feel for the quality of beers/breweries. What do I always promise/threaten at this point? There'll be lots more to follow.

And? Which beer is statistically safest? I know, you can't be arsed to look at all those images. Don't blame you. I'm the same. For the enthusiastically-challenged, here are the average scores of each beer:

Porter -2.25
KK -0.82
Stout 0
PA 0.09
X 0.57

The answer: "Drink Mild!"

Assessing beer quality

I've been thinking. Dangerous, I know. Thinking about the Whitbread Gravity Book. And how to convert the subjective assessment of beer quality into something more manageable. A number.

It occupied my thoughts as I sat on the sneltram this morning. How to convert those descriptive terms into a simple number. Eventually, I had an idea. A simple one, as mine usually are. I don't have the brain for complexity. Anyway, here's my idea. I'll give each of the descriptions a number. Zero is the level of just acceptable. Here's a slightly more graphic representation:

+3 v good
+2 v fine
+1 fine
0 moderate
-1 poor
-2 v poor, going off
-3 nasty, sour, foul, gone off

I'll be able to work out average scores for each beer type from a brewery and for a brewery overall. Any score below zero will be an indication of poor quality. Simple, eh?

Yesterday evening I quickly scanned the Gravity Book entries for a couple of breweries. I'm pretty sure I spotted a couple of patterns. But let me get some real numbers together before I spin any hypotheses.

Monday 12 January 2009

Bear with me

I shouldn't have started looking at the comments on beer flavour an appearance in the Whitbread Gravity Book. Because now I'm going to have look at them all. The comments, I mean. Even more work. That's just what I needed.

I already started yesterday. Quickly scanning the pages for early 1920's Porter entries. There seem to be a lot of poor-quality Porter samples. At least on the pages I've looked at so far. I suppose I ought to go about things a bit more scientifically than that. I need to analyse the entries for several London breweries. See:

- what proportion of the Porter samples were below par
- if the proportion of poor samples is the same as for other beer types

Then I should have a better idea as to whether Porter was generally in worse condition than the other beers on sale. Exciting, isn't it? I never thought I'd be able to get any evidence about stuff like this. It should also provide evidence about which breweries were selling the best-quality beer.

But, before I can do that, I need to transcribe the relevant Gravity Book entries. And that will take some time. You're going to have to bear with me for a little while. Until it's all done.

Sunday 11 January 2009

Why beer styles disaappear: Porter

I'm gradually working my way through volume 1 of the Whitbread Gravity Book. It's packed full of fun. I'll rephrase that. It's full of fun for me.

This morning it was the turn of the Cannon Brewery. Stonch should be interested in this, because their brewery was in St. John Street, Clerkenwell. Bought by Taylor Walker in 1930, they stopped brewing in 1955 (thank you Norman Barber).

Many of the Gravity Book entries for the early 1920's include comments on the quality of the beer sampled. Very revealing, they are. Take a look:

See the comments for Porter? Every single one is negative. "Poor", "Sour" and my personal favourite: "Nasty". What is this telling us? That Cannon's draught Porter was usually in poor condition. Sounds to me like it was in a negative spiral of falling sales, casks taking too long to be sold, poor beer, drinkers moving on to something else.

It's also clear that Porter was still a standard draught beer. There are sets of samples for PA, KK, X and Porter. These must have been the usual handpulled beers in Cannon pubs.

Judging by the overall negative tone of the comments, Cannon had probles with the quality of all their beers. Though there are a few positive comments for PA and KK.

What do reckon, was the declining quality of Porter on sale partly responsible for uts disappearance?

Saturday 10 January 2009

Ind Coope and Allsopp beers 1921 - 1938

Sorry about the digression yesterday. Back to British beer. I think that's my theme at the moment.

More from volume 1 of the Whitbread Gravity Book today. IPA. Another interesting topic. There seem to have been two quite different types of beer called IPA between the wars.

There's the weak but quite hoppy version made by London brewers. That had an OG of 1037-1045º. Weaker than standard draught Bitter, which was 1048 - 1055º. Both Whitbread and Barclay Perkins made this type of IPA. The attenuation was about the same as Bitter, between 70 and 80%.

IPA's brewed in Burton were quite different. Again, they were bottled beers. But a good bit stronger, around 1055º. I showed you the Worthington version a few days ago. Burton IPA's had an extremely high degree of attenuation, over 80% and sometimes over 90%.

Allsopp was another Burton brewery. Let's have a look at their beers:

You'll see that their IPA is very similar to Worthington's. It's a shame there's just the one sample, but it gives you the idea. It's strength wasn't much lowwer than in 1901, when it had an OG of 1062.

I've included some Ind Coope beers for no real reason other than that the two breweries merged in 1934. Ind Coope's brewery was in Essex. I'm surprised that the Arctic Ale wasn't stronger. I thought it was ridiculously strong.

So you can compare them properly, here are some London IPA's:

Friday 9 January 2009

Fantasy beer history: Gose

Gose is a beer very dear to my heart. One of my specialist subjects. I can recall my excitement when, reading "Die Biere Deutschlands", I first learned of its existence. For many years it was the beer I most wanted to try. When I finally tracked it down, it was no disappointment.

My very personal relationship with Gose explains why I get so upset when I read total rubbish about it on the web. Today I'm going to discuss a couple of shockingly inaccurate histories of Gose.

The first is from the website of Four Peaks Brewing:

A cross-cultural constant is that water, whether it comes from the Colorado, the Ganges or the Seine, can just get so -- I don't know -- boring? That's why beer has been a favorite beverage since the heyday of Ancient Egypt, and why -- somewhere between then and now -- some creative beer drinkers in Liepzig and Goseler, Germany decided to add to the usual hops, barley, yeast and water two interesting ingredients: coriander and salt. The result was "Gosebier," which became hugely popular, especially in Liepzig. It also became popular to add different fruit and nut-flavored extractions to this tart, refreshing and somewhat acidic wheat beer. Raspberry and almond-flavored Gosebier joined the plain version at tables all over Germany, and there was much rejoicing. Unfortunately, Gosebier was literally knocked out of existence around the year 1516 with the amalgamation of Eastern Europe and the adoption of the German Purity Law, which demanded that beer only be brewed using variations on its four base ingredients.

History seems to illustrate that even basic good beer can get boring, and eventually the desire for different flavors overtook the German purity law. Gosebier began to make a comeback. Just as this unique beer was regaining popularity, however, the Communist Party took over East Germany. People had a helluva lot more to worry about than, "what neat, fun ingredients we can throw into our bier now?"

Four Peaks is glad to report that, since the dissolution of Communism in that part of the world, Gosebier has certainly made its comeback in Liepzig and even in Goseler -- and that it has finally arrived at our brewery. Brewmaster Andy Ingram -- who was the source for all of this information -- describes the Four Peaks Gosebier as a combination of a Belgian white beer (wittbier) and a Berliner wheat (weisse) beer. "The Gosebier is a wheat beer with a mild spiciness from coriander and a tartness from yeast and lactic acid," said Ingram. "It's refreshing. Many people can get turned off by the idea of adding salt," he said, "but in this case, the addition of salt in just the right quantity does what salt is supposed to do -- enhance the flavors of the beer and give it a big, round mouth-feel." The upcoming beer dinner in March will also feature the three different, traditional Gosebiers as part of the dessert course: raspberry, almond liquer-flavored and regular. Four Peaks Gosebier, which is on tap now at the brewery, weighs in at a light, drinkable 4% alc./vol. Ahh . . . just in time for Spring drinking. Prost!

Where do I start? Almost everything in the first paragraph is total crap. The Reinheitsgebot didn't apply to the places where Gose was brewed until the 20th century. Gose wasn't the result of "creative beer drinkers" adding stuff to their beer. It's called Gose not Gosebier. The town is Goslar, not Goselar. And Gose is brewed from wheat as well as barley.

Now leat's consider paragraph two. Gose wasn't making a comeback before the communists took over, it was in decline after WW I. Gose was brewed during the DDR period.

I suppose as American brewers who probably can't read German, they may have an excuse. The author of the following disinformation can make no such claim. This was written by German-born Horst Dornbusch and can be found on his "German Beer Institute" website.

In the 20th century, with its wars and dictatorships, Leipziger Gose slowly faded into oblivion. The air raids of the Second World War wreaked havoc and destruction on the brewing facilities, which the planned economy of the Communists proved incapable of rebuilding. The division of Germany during the Cold War (starting in 1949) into a "workers' and farmers' paradise" in the Soviet East and a "revengist, bourgeois" hellhole of "exploitation" in the capitalist West — separated from each other since 1961 by a the Berlin Wall and a death zone with barbed wire, search lights, and a brain-washed, trigger happy "people's army" — not only kept the East Germans in their socialist prison but also caused their beers to wither. Gose was still a local specialty in Leipzig, when the Communist regime in East Germany decided it had better uses for its feeble economy's precious grain. This was because food shortages that resulted from the forced collectivization of agriculture turned bread-making, not beer-making, into the almost sole purpose of the precious grains. Not surprisingly, all brewing suffered under the Communist regime and, by the late 1950s, the last pre-unification Gose was brewed in Leipzig.

Only after the Wall came down on November 9, 1989, could this traditional beer style make a comeback; and many craft breweries in and around Leipzig started to brew it again. One of the driving forces behind the modern Gose-Renaissance has been the Gosebrauerei Bayerischer Bahnhof (Gose Brewery Bavarian Station), wich opened its doors in 2000. It is located in the historic downtown train station dating from 1842 that linked Leipzig with Munich.

There's barely a true word in the first paragraph. The only brewery producing Gose in the 1940's was not destroyed in the war. It was on a country estate and survived intact. It never restarting brewing after the war. Gose was revived in 1949 (after the communists had taken over) at the newly-founded Friedrich Wurzler Brauerei in Leipzig. They were never short of grain for bread-making in the DDR. In any case, the bread was mostly made from rye, with a little wheat and certainly no barley . The last pre-unification Gose was not brewed in the 1950's. The Friedrich Wurzler Brauerei closed in 1966 after the owner died. It was so small and primitive that it wasn't worth nationalising and just shut down. Gose was revived by Lothar Goldhahn in 1986 and brewed at the Schultheiss Weissbier brewery on Schönhauserallee in Berlin until 1988.

Sorry to come across all negative, but this sort of unresearched "history" drives me nuts. It's not hard to find the correct information, if you can be arsed. Even wikipedia gets it right. Then again, it was me who wrote the section on the history of Gose.

If you're interested, I've an accurate history of Gose here:

"Gose Häppchen:100 Jahre Gosenschenke Ohne Bedenken", 1999, pages 13 - 63
"Die Biere Deutschlands" Höllhuber & Kaul, 1988, pages 342 - 344.

Thursday 8 January 2009

Worthington Beers 1921 - 1936

I've finally found an envelope (one as yet unpushed) in my busy schedule to transcribe the Worthington entries from part one of the gravity book.

Here they are:

Because yesterday's image is acting a bit weird, here's another version:

Interestingly, the early 1920's version of Worthington IPA has almost exactly the same OG as the 1949 one. Very unusual. Most beers lost 25% or so in gravity over that period. Even weirder, the 1955 versions (shown as White Shield and Green Shield) were over 1060. That's probably about the same as in the 19th century. Then in the late 1950's it dropped back to the low 1050's.

Such a small drop in gravity was over the period 1900 - 1960 is really, really, really unusual. Very odd. Bleedin' weird. Most PA's/IPA's went from 1065 to 1037 over the same period. Apart from the weak, London-style IPA's. They started only started around 1050.

Of course, not having any numbers on pre-WW I Worthington IPA, I could be talking out of my arse here. I'm taking the very rash step of making an assumption. That Worthington and Bass had similar OG's in the late 1800's. Then again, despite what some may think, IPA wasn't a particularly strong beer. I've yet to find one over 1070.

Wednesday 7 January 2009

News (good)

I managed to get the last two pints of SSS in Wildeman last night. And Menno has told me that he'll be brewing my KKK and Russian Stout sometime this month. Hooray!

Tuesday 6 January 2009

Worthington bottled beers 1944 - 1967 (again)

Just for Zythophile, here are some Worthington bottled beer analyses.

You'll have to wait till I have time for the pre war ones.

Monday 5 January 2009

Bass bottled beers 1921 – 1938

As promised, details of Bass bottled beers between the wars.

There are a few that I haven't seen postwar: Amber Ale and No.5 Burton Ale. Others, like Barley Wine (No.1 Ale, I assume) and Imperial Stout (P2, I guess) are more familiar. Anyway, here are the numbers:

The Prince's Ale was an interesting one to see. It looks very much like a version of No.1.

As for the resemblance between Bass and Worthington beers after their merger (as mentioned by Zythophile): you'll have to wait until I get around to transcribing the Worthington entries from the Gravity Book. Probably later this week.

Before I forget, I wanted to point out the high degree of attenuation of all the beers, epart from Imperial Stout. It's also worth noting that the gravity of Bass No. 1 doesn't appear to have been reduced at all during the 20th century. Very unusual. Even Barclay's Russian Stout (the doemstic version) was significantly weaker in the 1930's than it had been pre WW I.

Sunday 4 January 2009

Bass Pale Ale 1951 - 1993

Here's a continuation of yesterday's post about Bass Pale Ale.

The gravity of draught Bass was gradually whittled away after 1950, falling from 1049.9 to 1043 in 1993. However, for a standard PA, it was still pretty strong compared to other brewery's efforts.

A word about the two bottled Pale Ales, Red Triangle and Blue Triangle. These were essentially the same beer, except Red Triangle was bottle-conditioned and Blue Triangle wasn't. That may account for the higher degree of attenuation in Red Triangle.

I had a question yesterday about the high attenuation of 1901 Dog's Head brand Bass (exported to Asia). Whether this was the result of a bottle-conditioned beer attenuating on a long export voyage. I would suspect that the beer was deliberately fermented out as far as possible before export. One of the advantages of hard, gypsum-rich Burton water was that it enabled brewers to ferment their beers further. High attenuation was seen as a very useful asset to extend a beer's shelf life, there being little fermentable material left for any nasties to start feeding on.

If anyone is interested, the Whitbread Gravity Book volume I has details of many Bass bottled beers, including Princess Ale, Barley Wine (No. 1 Ale) and Imperial Stout (P2). If you want, I could post those tomorrow.

Saturday 3 January 2009

Bass Pale Ale 1887 - 1950

That's enough Guinness and Stout for a while. Time to turn to Bass and Pale Ale.

It's not such a big jump as it might seem. Both Guinness and Bass were extensively bottled by other brewers for sale in their tied houses.

If you've been paying attention when I've been hammering away about British beer gravities in the 20th century, you'll notice that Bass suffered less from gravity cuts than most other beers. And there's the very high degree of attenuation - often well over 80%. I guess that's the Burton water for you.